One of the biggest position battles in the NFL—if not the biggest—was decided on Wednesday.
Cleveland Browns coach Mike Pettine announced that Brian Hoyer, not Johnny Manziel, will be the starting quarterback during the Week 1 against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Vic Carucci of ClevelandBrowns.com shared Pettine's comments on the decision:
He was the clear leader from the beginning. We’ve maintained all along that if it was close, I would prefer to go with the more experienced player. Brian has done a great job in the meeting rooms and with his teammates on the practice field and in the locker room.
... I think Brian’s been very poised. I think he’s handled the situation well. He’s had a lot of things going on.
While Manziel wanted the starting role, it's likely the best situation for his development. Rookie quarterbacks such as Russell Wilson and Andrew Luck stepped in during recent seasons and shined, but Manziel hasn't proven he is ready thus far during the preseason.
For that matter, neither did Hoyer, really, but that's beside the point. Both signal-callers have struggled thus far, but it was Hoyer's experience that pushed him over the top, as Pettine noted.
Some first-year quarterbacks show readiness from the start, but Manziel has failed to meet early expectations. He spoke about where he felt he was in his progression, per Eye On Football:
“I didn’t necessarily feel like I was ready.” - Johnny Manziel on Browns decision— Eye on Football (@EyeOnNFL) August 20, 2014
After yet another lackluster performance for both quarterbacks, it was Hoyer who looked the part as a more poised player. Hoyer didn't wow the coaching staff, but Manziel's antics on the field hurt his case.
Despite the fact that he didn't earn the starting job, Manziel hasn't shied away from putting the blame squarely on his own shoulders. The former Texas A&M signal-caller spoke about that fact, per Ed Werder of ESPN:
This from @JManziel2: "If I would’ve come out and played better, I think it would’ve been a different outcome."— Ed Werder (@Edwerderespn) August 20, 2014
Another issue for Manziel has been his ability to learn the playbook. The rookie had a drastic learning curve with Kyle Shanahan's system and was having a difficult time with calling plays, as Ian Rapoport of NFL.com noted:
Browns soon found how much of a learning curve a college spread QB like Manziel has. Play calls were tough. Snaps under center. Protections.— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) August 20, 2014
Given more time with the playbook, Manziel does have a shot of taking over at some point in the future.
But by avoiding the Week 1 matchup with the Pittsburgh Steelers, Manziel might have actually dodged a pretty big bullet. With a stout defense and veteran leadership on both sides of the ball, the Steelers rarely fall to rookie quarterbacks.
Numbers Never Lie provides a glimpse at the recent record for the franchise against rookies:
The good news for Johnny Manziel is he won’t be facing the Steelers Week 1 who have an NFL-best 17-2 W-L vs rookies since 2004.— Numbers Never Lie (@ESPN_Numbers) August 20, 2014
The Browns have a tough schedule to start the season outside of the rival Steelers as well. Playing both the New Orleans Saints and Baltimore Ravens at home after traveling to Pittsburgh, Cleveland will be lucky to have a win after that stretch.
Week 4 brings a bye for the Browns and possibly time to reevaluate the situation. If Hoyer hasn't drastically improved by that point, expect more calls for Manziel to get his chance. In fact, Tom Pelissero of USA Today believes the requests might come earlier:
If Hoyer is horrible again Saturday and Manziel lights it up in front of the home crowd, things may get a little awkward.— Tom Pelissero (@TomPelissero) August 20, 2014
Will Manziel be the starter at some point this season?
Hoyer is far from a veteran leader, but Manziel can still learn a lot from the hard-working quarterback. Whether it's poise, play-calling or how to lead an offense, watching Hoyer through the start of the season might prove crucial for Manziel.
If he can master the playbook and other weaknesses in his game, the talent will eventually shine through. With a bright future still intact, the quarterback battle will be revisited multiple times this season as Manziel looks to prove himself.
The fight to be the Week 1 starter is over, but Manziel still has an entire season to earn the role. Spending time on the bench and having the on-the-field pressure off him for now, Manziel has time to learn.
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